To be as safe as possible when travelling in cars, children and adults need to be using restraints or seatbelts that are properly fitted and suited to the age and size of the person.
In summary, the rules state the following:
- Children under six months are to be seated in a properly fastened and adjusted approved rearward-facing child restraint. Before your baby is moved into a safety seat, they should also be able to sit, and control their head.
- Children aged between six months and four years are to be seated in a properly fastened and adjusted rearward-facing or forward-facing approved child restraint with an inbuilt harness.
- Children aged four years to under seven years are to be seated in a properly fastened and adjusted forward-facing approved child restraint with an inbuilt harness, or an approved booster seat with a properly fastened and adjusted seatbelt or child safety harness.
- Children under four years shouldn’t travel in the front seat of a vehicle that has two or more rows of seats.
- Children aged between four and seven years are not permitted to sit in the front seat unless all other seating positions are already occupied by children under seven.
It’s illegal, and very dangerous, to carry a baby in a rear-facing baby seat in a front car seat that has an active airbag. Forward-facing seats in the same position, while not illegal, are not ideal for toddlers. Use the back seat for all under-fives if you can.
Child safety seat
Always use a baby or child car seat that’s right for your child’s height and weight. Make sure the seat is fitted properly in the car and that your baby or toddler is securely strapped.
When buying a seat, try it in your car before buying it. A badly fitting seat can provide less protection in a crash.
Keep the same child restraint or booster seat until your child reaches the maximum shoulder height limits. If you put them in the next type of restraint before they are big enough, it might not protect them properly.
Second-hand child restraints and booster seats
It’s advisable to not buy a second-hand baby or child seat. It could have been damaged in a crash, and it may not have all its parts (including the instructions). It may also not be the safest and most user-friendly model, nor might it fit your car properly.
If you must use a second-hand restraint, make sure you check:
- its age and condition
- its history
- that it’s approved
- that it isn’t more than 10 years old
- that all the parts, including the instruction booklet, are included
To make sure your child will be kept as safe as possible, don’t accept or use a restraint that has:
- been in a crash, even if there’s no obvious damage
- splits, cracks or large stress marks in the restraint shell
- straps that are frayed, worn or damaged
- a buckle that doesn’t work smoothly
Never leave your baby or toddler alone in the car
Cars turn into ovens very quickly, even on cool or overcast days. Never leave your child alone in the car, even for a moment. The temperature inside a car on a hot day can rise to dangerous levels very quickly. Also, they may play with window and door switches or the cigarette lighter. It’s especially dangerous if you leave the keys in the ignition.
Other important safety guidelines
- Don’t drive unless all seat belts are done up. If your child removes the straps or undoes the buckle, stop the car and do up the belt again. Explain what you’re doing. If you need to give your child a reward or incentive for leaving the belt or buckle alone, it’s best to use one that will distract your child’s attention and last until you reach your destination. Never drive while the belt is twisted or undone.
- Your child should always keep arms, legs and head inside the car when it’s moving or parked on the side of the road. You can also activate the childproof locks so your child can’t get out when the car is moving or standing still.
- Loose items can fly about in a crash, so keep loose items in the glove box, the boot or behind the cargo barrier in station wagons and four-wheel drives. When travelling with an empty booster seat in the car, fasten the seatbelt around it to prevent the booster seat from injuring someone. You should also restrain any pets travelling with you.
Seat belts and pregnant women
Every person travelling in a motor vehicle must use an approved restraint where one is available, properly fastened and adjusted. This includes pregnant women no matter what stage of pregnancy.